Monday, March 28, 2011

The Future of Aircraft Carriers

...does not look bright, at least according to Gary Brecher.

Over at The Exiled, Brecher (a.k.a. The War Nerd) is writing a post a day for 90 days, and it's full of interesting stuff.

In one of his recent posts, he links to these two articles he wrote a while back, arguing that aircraft carriers are likely to be giant sitting targets in any modern war. He makes a very good case that the situation is analogous to how long it took the British Navy to realise that battleships were incredibly vulnerable to air attacks.

The original article, found here, described some 2002 War Games exercises where in the simulation the US carrier group was largely destroyed by a combination of small boats and aircraft.
But what van Ripen did to the US fleet...that's something very different. He was given nothing but small planes and ships-fishing boats, patrol boats, that kind of thing. He kept them circling around the edges of the Persian Gulf aimlessly, driving the Navy crazy trying to keep track of them. When the Admirals finally lost patience and ordered all planes and ships to leave, van Ripen had them all attack at once. And they sank two-thirds of the US fleet.
That should scare the hell out of everybody who cares about how well the US is prepared to fight its next war. ...
One day we'll wake up to a second Pearl Harbor. Maybe not this year--fighting a joke like Saddam, the US Navy can probably getting away with sending its carriers into the Persian Gulf. But if Iran gets involved, those carriers won't last one day.
His more recent piece, here, describes how the Chinese have developed a ballistic missile which ships have no current defenses for (in fact, they have no defenses against ballistic missiles at all).
So either you go with boats you can afford to lose, or you downsize the navy radically, turn it into a low-tech anti-piracy force only used against stone-age opponents like the Somalis, or you go the U-boat route the Germans took when they realized the age of the battleship was over, sticking to subs. Because one way or another, if we get into it for real with China or even Iran, all our ships are going to subs, one way or the other.
Grim, funny, and sadly probably true.

It's not every day that you read someone arguing that a huge component of our military spending would be completely useless in an actual war situation, but Brecher makes a very compelling case. Scary stuff.

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